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How to Shop the Bulk Bins and Save Money

A great way to buy only what you need.

Published Nov. 21, 2022.

The bulk section can seem a bit daunting. Every style of lentil you’ve ever imagined (and more) stares at you expectantly. Who knew there were so many types of rice? Don’t run for the safety of the cereal aisle just yet. The bulk section can save you so much money.

“Bulk” understandably brings massive quantities to mind. (And where would you even store it all?) But, there are many great reasons to shop in the bulk section and we’ll detail them right here. If you know, you know.

If not, you’ve been missing out. 

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1. The Bulk Section Helps You Reduce Waste

Avoid all of the unnecessary packaging and just go straight for the ingredient. The bulk section provides small plastic bags to use. However, you can bring your own reusable containers and label them with the corresponding bulk bin number to reduce plastic waste. 

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2. Avoid the Brand Name–Price Hike 

If you’re not a stickler for brand loyalty, you can save money on ingredients such as oats, dried fruits, and even granulated and powdered sugars, in the bulk section. As long as they’re kept cool and dry, these ingredients can last for quite some time. (According to the Utah State University Preserve the Harvest Extension, commercial granular sugars have an indefinite shelf life due to their resistance to microbial growth.)

A box of microwavable popcorn costs anywhere from $4-6 at my local grocery store. Popcorn kernels in the bulk section cost $.97 per pound. You can use a pot or a microwave popcorn popper and flavor it however you like. 

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3. Don’t Shell Out for Specialty Ingredients

Spices are expensive. And if you only use spices like nutmeg, anise, or cloves during the holidays, it might not be worth buying more than you need. If you only make Anise Biscotti once or twice a year for the holidays, those ground spices will be stale by the time it gets cold again. Since they have a shorter shelf life than you think, why not buy less in the bulk section?  

Even special ingredients like whole vanilla bean pods can be found in tubes in the bulk section, often for less than those in the spice aisle. (I found Madagascar vanilla pods for $5 in my local grocery store’s bulk section!)

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4. Buy Exactly the Amount You Need

When if you're just cooking for one or two, scaling down a recipe can be difficult as prepackaged ingredients come in a larger size than you may need.

For example, our recipe for Pesto Farro Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Artichokes serves 6. Cutting the recipe by half means you’ll only need ¾ cup of farro and ¼ cup of raw sunflower seeds. Rather than toss a bag to the back of your pantry to never be seen again, purchase exact amounts in the bulk section so none goes to waste. 

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